Destiny’s child: Philippines’ Robredo refuses to rule out presidency just yet

Destiny’s child: Philippines’ Robredo refuses to rule out presidency just yet
Philippines Vice President Leni Robredo. (Reuters/File)
Updated 22 September 2019

Destiny’s child: Philippines’ Robredo refuses to rule out presidency just yet

Destiny’s child: Philippines’ Robredo refuses to rule out presidency just yet
  • In an exclusive interview with Arab News, the vice president talks about her frosty relationship with Duterte and the need to ensure OFW rights

MANILA: She is one of his most vocal critics, while he never misses an opportunity to mock her in public speeches across the Philippines.

But when it comes to upholding the sanctity of their office, both President Rodrigo Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo ensure they bring a finely scripted civility to the table.

“I do not meet him often. I do not get invited to functions in the presidential palace, but I get invited to military events. I try as much as I can to attend ... and I see the president there. Our meetings have always been cordial. The president has been very civil when we see each other,” Robredo said in an exclusive interview with Arab News in Manila.

Robredo was elected separately to Duterte and was not his running mate. Amid rumors that she is the obvious choice to take on the mantle once Duterte finishes his term, Robredo says that she is not ready to rule out the idea just yet.

“I do not rule it out completely only because of what happened during the last two elections where I ruled out running for Congress and I ruled out running for the vice-presidency, and I had to eat my words after that,” she said, adding that as far as the Philippines is concerned, it’s all about “destiny.”

“Our history has shown that a lot of people have aspired for the presidency, but have not been successful. And we have had a lot of presidents who won the elections where they had not prepared as much as the other candidates. It is something that will be given to you if it is really meant for you. So there is no point in preparing for it at this point,” she said.

 

In recent years, Robredo and Duterte have had a frosty relationship over issues ranging from the government’s controversial war on drugs to the Philippines ties with China.

 

Recently, Robredo called out Duterte for his “shoot, but don’t kill” orders.

The president made his comments on Thursday during the inauguration of the Bataan government center and business hub dubbed “The Bunker,” urging Filipinos to “shoot but not kill” public officials who were demanding money in exchange for their services and vowing to defend any person who attacked a corrupt official.

The statement drew flak from several rights organizations and, most significantly, from the vice president herself.

“I do not agree with killings per se, whether they are against drug addicts or corrupt officials. We have laws; we have the judicial system, and we should make sure that we have a strong judicial system, safe from political intrusion and corruption,” she said.

Robredo also explained why she has been at loggerheads with Duterte over his stance on the South China Sea.

Last week, she described as “reckless” his suggestion that he would consider bypassing an arbitration ruling — in favor of the Philippines — over a territorial dispute with China in order to finalize an energy pact with Beijing.

“I have always been vocal about statements by the president, which may be interpreted in a manner that would be against the constitution. It has been the reason of some friction between us. There has been a lot of confusion as far as the seriousness of the president’s remarks is concerned. Whenever he makes controversial statements, some officials around him try to correct those statements,” she said, adding that her retorts have “been a source of criticism from many of the president’s supporters.”

Adding to their constant tug-of-war is the issue of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and sending manpower to countries in the Middle East.

The issue intensified with the murder of 29-year-old Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found stuffed in a freezer in Kuwait last year. A Syrian woman, one of Demafelis’ employers, was found guilty of her murder this month.

Following the incident, the Philippines placed a ban on sending workers to Kuwait.

Duterte lifted the ban after Demafelis’ killer was tried, and there have been efforts to negotiate the terms and conditions of labor contracts by both the countries.

“The issues in Kuwait became a little too unbearable and we entered into a memorandum of agreement last year ... it was a reaction to many of the complaints that overseas Filipinos in Kuwait have. Some say that their passports are being confiscated by employers as soon as they reach Kuwait, and there are complaints about the working conditions, hours, etc,” Robredo said.

However, the agreement was a “short-term” initiative and a more formal bilateral agreement would have been “better in the sense that both countries will be made accountable,” she said.

“This is our desire not just in Kuwait, but also in many other parts of the Middle East, and in Saudi Arabia for example, where most of our Filipino workers are. There has been a UN convention on the protection of the rights of overseas workers — migrant workers — but, unfortunately, most of the countries hosting our migrant workers are not signatories to that convention yet,” she said.

Robredo described the agreement a “work in progress,” saying “it is something that we have been working on for several years.”

The Philippines signed two agreements with Saudi Arabia — the first in 2015, and another two years later —  on labor contracts and recruitment.

According to the Philippines Statistics Authority, the Kingdom continued to be the top destination for OFWs until May this year, with an estimated 2.3 million Filipinos working there.

Remittances from the period totalled P235.9 billion ($4.5 billion), up from P205.2 billion a year earlier.

“It is our desire that the countries hosting our migrant workers will be signatories to the UN convention because at the very least, the basic rights of our workers will be protected. It is something that not just our Foreign Affairs Department is working on, but our Labor Department as well,” she said, adding that this and a few other issues are subjects on which she and the president agree.

In June this year, when both Robredo and Duterte entered the final stretch of their six-year terms, the vice president said that she wanted a “better working relationship” with the president.

It is a sentiment that she voiced strongly while talking to Arab News as well.

“I think if our meetings are to be the gauge of our relationship, we are OK. It is just that there have been a lot of side remarks, issues and criticisms outside of our meetings that I think complicates the relationship,” she said.


At a Toronto hospital staff exhausted, angry

At a Toronto hospital staff exhausted, angry
Updated 22 min 18 sec ago

At a Toronto hospital staff exhausted, angry

At a Toronto hospital staff exhausted, angry
  • Ontario is now the epicenter of the outbreak in Canada, led by more virulent variants
  • At the week's end more than 2,200 people were hospitalized with Covid-19 in the province of 14 million

TORONTO: Intensive care nurse Farial says the health care system in Canada’s Ontario province is nearing the breaking point as it fights a fast-moving new wave of Covid-19 infections.
The caregiver at Toronto’s Humber River Hospital is looking after two patients in their 60s who are on ventilators.
“We’re overwhelmed,” she told AFP, conveying the feelings of her peers who often say they feel powerless against a tidal wave of new cases, and angry at times — especially with the Ontario government’s arguably slow response and with Ontarians who are not following public health orders to contain the coronavirus.
“We’re stretched thin. We’re tired and exhausted. Just exhausted.”
Ontario is now the epicenter of the outbreak in Canada, led by more virulent variants. The latest surge in the number of cases was so big that authorities this week dispatched the military and the Red Cross to help care for critical patients.
“It’s the worst wave I’ve ever seen,” says head nurse Kimisha Marshall. “We have younger patients coming in, sicker and lots more patients coming in.”
“We’re short of nurses. We had some nurses that left, but also we have nurses that are getting sick, too,” she adds.
At the week’s end, there were more than 2,200 people hospitalized with Covid-19 in the province of 14 million. Nearly 900 patients were listed in critical condition.
Medical staff have been redeployed from other wards to the ICU to lend a hand, and transferring patients to facilities in less affected areas has alleviated some of the pressure on this Toronto hospital.
But more than a year after the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, “the team is tired,” comments Raman Rai, head of the intensive care unit where a few children’s drawings thanking caregivers hang on the walls, bringing a glimmer of cheer.
At times overcome by a deep sadness, Rai says: “You see people who have not only lost a loved one, but who have lost several members of their family. It is very hard.”
More than 60 percent of patients in Humber River Hospital’s intensive care unit on Wednesday were being treated for Covid-19. In one of the rooms, relatives and a priest gathered around a patient’s bed, praying.
Every day, several more patients must be placed on ventilators. On Wednesday, a 52-year-old man with low blood oxygen levels was intubated by a team of four caregivers fully dressed in protective gowns, gloves, masks and visors.
“He was so scared, he could barely breathe,” recounts Melody Baril, who performed the intubation.
“You try and give them a little bit of hope,” she says, “but the death rate is so high, once you get to this point.”
More than 8,000 people in Ontario have died from Covid-19, representing one-third of the nationwide pandemic death toll. The number of cases in the province has risen to over 450,000, or almost 40 percent of the total in Canada.
After peaking in mid-April, the number of new daily infections has fallen slightly over the past 10 days and a vaccine rollout is accelerating. But the number of patients in intensive care continues to rise.
Fearing the crisis will persist, some caregivers say they are angry with Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government — which has faced a storm of criticisms over its pandemic response of late — but also against a segment of the population that has stubbornly resisted following public health restrictions.
“I feel frustrated,” says nurse Sarah Banani. “I think perhaps things could have been shut down harder and faster as we saw the variants take hold within the population.”
“I think we all feel we have been let down a little bit by society,” comments physician Jamie Spiegelman, adding that many health care providers “feel powerless to change things.”
“When I go outside and see traffic, people in a shopping center not taking the necessary precautions, that’s a letdown,” he says.
“We’re sick of patients with Covid-19 dying.”


Sweden passes one million cases as virus spread tops EU

Sweden passes one million cases as virus spread tops EU
Updated 06 May 2021

Sweden passes one million cases as virus spread tops EU

Sweden passes one million cases as virus spread tops EU
  • Sweden now has among the highest number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants in Europe, said health official
  • With 1,002,121 covid19 cases recorded since the pandemic, 9.85 percent of the population has contracted the virus, according to official data

STOCKHOLM: Sweden on Thursday announced it had recorded over one million cases of Covid-19, nearly a tenth of the population, as the Nordic nation struggles to rein in a third wave of the virus.
“In Sweden we now have among the highest number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants in Europe,” Karin Tegmark Wisell, head of microbiology at Sweden’s Public Health Agency, told a press conference.
Tegmark Wisell noted however that there had been a downward trend in recent weeks.
With 1,002,121 cases of the novel coronavirus recorded since the start of the pandemic, 9.85 percent of the population has contracted the virus, according to official data compiled by AFP.
The Public Health Agency published a series of projections, with the most likely scenario showing the virus spread starting to subside in mid-May before reaching “very low levels” in July and August.
The Scandinavian country has famously never imposed the type of lockdown seen elsewhere in Europe, controversially relying on mostly non-coercive measures.
It has however gradually tightened restrictions since November, including a ban on alcohol sales after 8:00 p.m. and on public gatherings of more than eight people.
Since March, cafes, bars and restaurants have also been required to shut their doors by 8:30 pm.
Despite being in the midst of a third wave of cases, the rise in deaths has been much slower in recent weeks, with 156 deaths in the last seven days, which authorities say is the result of the rollout of vaccines among vulnerable groups.
The total number of deaths associated with Covid-19 since the start of pandemic reached 14,158 on Thursday, putting Sweden in the middle of the pack in Europe, although well ahead of its Nordic neighbors Finland, Norway and Denmark,
European mortality statistics however also show that Sweden had a lower than average excess mortality in 2020, compared to the rest of Europe.


Delhi’s popular autorickshaws become COVID-19 ambulances

Delhi’s popular autorickshaws become COVID-19 ambulances
Updated 06 May 2021

Delhi’s popular autorickshaws become COVID-19 ambulances

Delhi’s popular autorickshaws become COVID-19 ambulances
  • Actual ambulances are hard to come by as a devastating surge in cases overwhelms the healthcare system
  • Delhi government and a non-profit organization kitted out over 12 autorickshaws with sanitizers and masks while oxygen cylinders are provided based on need

NEW DELHI: It’s not the most conventional way to get to hospital, but with Delhi running short of ambulances, authorities have turned some of the city’s ubiquitous three-wheeled autorickshaws into makeshift ambulances to ferry COVID-19 patients.
Actual ambulances are hard to come by as a devastating surge in cases overwhelms the health care system.
Families have had to make their own arrangements including paying exorbitant amounts to private ambulance operators to take the sick to hospital.
The Delhi government, in association with a non-profit organization, has kitted out more than a dozen autorickshaws with hand sanitizers and face masks, while oxygen cylinders are provided on a need basis. The service, which began officially on Tuesday, is free.
Autorickshaw driver Raj Kumar has taken patients to the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital, Delhi’s largest facility, which is overflowing with COVID-19 patients.
“We must all help each other out at this time of need to get out of this situation,” said Kumar, who wears a PPE suit. There is a plastic partition between him and the passengers at the back.
“If everyone stays home because they are scared, then who is going to help those in need?“
Mohit Raj, founder and executive director of the Turn Your Concern into Action foundation, said the response so far had shown the scheme needed more vehicles.
“Now we are getting calls not just of COVID patients but from front-line workers who are unable to find patient conveyance, as well as from people with other ailments,” he said.
Raj added he has received requests from other parts of the country to start services there.


Ramadan business picks up for London’s Arab eateries as coronavirus restrictions ease

Pistachio and Honey have managed to weather the storm and opened their second, larger branch a few months ago. (AN photo/Sarah Glubb)
Pistachio and Honey have managed to weather the storm and opened their second, larger branch a few months ago. (AN photo/Sarah Glubb)
Updated 06 May 2021

Ramadan business picks up for London’s Arab eateries as coronavirus restrictions ease

Pistachio and Honey have managed to weather the storm and opened their second, larger branch a few months ago. (AN photo/Sarah Glubb)

LONDON: During Ramadan last year, the pandemic took a heavy toll on the famed Arab restaurants and food stores in west London.
This year, however, a combination of shrewd business decisions and the gradual easing of COVID-19 restrictions has contributed to a sharp increase in trade for many and brought hope that the worst of the pandemic might be over.
“People can’t practice Ramadan as usual but we tried to make it in a different and safer way...and this year, we are more prepared and organized,” Khaled Alghorani, the manager of Dimashqi, a Syrian supermarket in Shepherd’s Bush, told Arab News.
The store is extremely popular; it stocks standard food items alongside delicacies from the Middle East, making it a favored Syrian spot. Like other business owners in the area, however, Alghorani has had to adapt the services he provides in response to the realities of the pandemic.
“We have new special offers and we introduced an online service, so customers can place orders for groceries, halal meats and desserts and we can deliver anywhere in the UK in chilled packages so they receive the food as fresh as it is in the supermarket,” said Alghorani.
The holy month, which began on April 13, has been somewhat of a blessing, he added. Shelves are restocked daily after iftar so customers can shop with ease during the day while adhering to preventative measures. Popular items include soups, drinks, sweets, dates, apricot paste (Qamar Al-Din) and maarouk, a traditional brioche-like bread filled with dates that is only made during Ramadan.
“Because of the pandemic we had a shortage of some products and we had delays as well, but by the end we managed to get most of the stock for Ramadan,” said Alghorani.
The supermarket shares its space with Ayam Zaman, one of the top Syrian and Middle Eastern restaurants in the city. It has managed to remain open throughout the pandemic but has had to restrict its services and is not offering as wide a variety of special Ramadan dishes as it usually does.
“People prefer to dine in a restaurant than sitting at home, especially on Eid. But unfortunately because of the lockdown, which is going to end on May 17, we are going to continue with takeaway orders only, with new offers on desserts,” said Alghorani.
“Before COVID-19, Ramadan used to be the busiest time; we had better services, better sales and the restaurant wouldn’t have any reservations (available) — we were fully booked, because people like to sit and break their fast together.”
The restaurant also normally supplies iftar for office employees during Ramadan but because the majority of staff is still working from home, that service has taken a huge hit and the restaurant is instead relying on private functions.
The UK’s third national lockdown was partially lifted on April 12; non-essential shops were allowed to reopen, outdoor dining is permitted at restaurants and cafes, and up to 15 people from three households can meet and socialize outdoors.
“The lockdown (eased) and the weather was good, so people were happy and I think everybody’s in the mood to go outside, do shopping and even eat outside,” Moussa Mehri, general manager of the Naama restaurant and butcher’s shop in Shepherd’s Bush, told Arab News.
He said business is picking up and this year is much better than last. People appear calmer, less scared of the disease and are spending money but no longer panic buying, he added.
He said Naama is not focusing on iftar as it normally does during Ramadan because most people are eating at home, but that the restaurant is receiving a surprising amount of delivery orders. Like Ayam Zaman, Naama is still restricting its service to takeaways and deliveries, to protect the health of its staff.
The well-established restaurant, which opened in 2003, specializes in Lebanese cuisine. One of its specialties is a whole lamb on a bed of rice, garnished with toasted nuts.
“People are now gathering a lot. It’s not like last year,” said Mehri. “This year it’s different — people are holding iftars (and) I am receiving big orders for large amounts of money. I think they had enough from the last lockdown.
“It’s a blessed month and it’s to do with the environment and providing good service to people who are fasting. It’s good for business, don’t get me wrong, but the main concept is to help people and I think everybody is trying and helping in their own way.”
Bosses at cafe and bakery Pistachio and Honey also said that they are finding business easier this Ramadan compared with last year.
“People got to know more about the coronavirus, they got to know more about how to socialize and how to social distance,” director Anas Sheekh Aly told Arab News.
Aside from being scared to leave their houses last year, people were also scared to eat sugar, he said, due to the uncertainty about the disease and the limited information that was available.
A year on and many people have received a vaccine or caught the virus and recovered, Aly said, and the lockdown is also less strict. However the economic effects of the pandemic mean that a lot of people have less money to spend on non-essentials and are put off by high prices, he added, which has affected his business.
Sweets and desserts are a major part of the Ramadan table, and certain varieties are only made during the holy month, particularly qatayef, awama (luqaimat), namoura, madlouka, maghshousha and halawet el-jibn. The bakery makes all of these from scratch, along with its flagship product: qishta (a type of clotted cream). Aly has acquired the only license in the UK to make qishta from raw cow’s milk in the traditional, authentic way.
“It’s quite a hard process but this helps us get the real taste coming from our countries,” said Aly. “But our prices are very cost-effective, our sweets are healthy — we use less sugar, pure butter ghee and pure flour — and we are using all of the finest ingredients.”
The area around the cafe is always fragrant with the scent of fresh-baked kanafeh, which it makes from scratch using akawi, baladi and Nabulsi cheese to get the authentic taste, unlike some other bakeries that use mozzarella.
Originally from Syria, Aly opened the first branch of his business on March 25 last year, a day before the first lockdown was imposed. By the time the restrictions eased and he could reopen, most of his stock had expired. Although he suffered heavy losses as additional lockdowns were imposed, he managed to weather the storm and opened his second, larger branch: like the first, in Acton — a few months ago.
“Ramadan is a month of blessing and you don’t even know how livelihood will come to you,” said Aly. “For business it’s very good; even if you don’t do anything you will get business in Ramadan.” But he added that the true spirit of the month is felt in one’s heart and we should appreciate what we have.
“There are refugees all over the world that don’t have food or water to drink,” he said. “It gets you to feel more about them, it gets you to feel more about people who are starving and thirsty, and so you do more religion and you appreciate what you have more — and this is what we teach our kids as well when we get them to fast.”


Gunmen kill former TV presenter then escape in Afghanistan

Gunmen kill former TV presenter then escape in Afghanistan
Updated 06 May 2021

Gunmen kill former TV presenter then escape in Afghanistan

Gunmen kill former TV presenter then escape in Afghanistan
  • Former TV present Nimat Rawan was shot at noon by two assailants who escaped with his mobile phone
  • Security officials have told several other journalists in the area that extremists are targeting them as well

KABUL: Gunmen killed a former Afghan TV presenter on Thursday as he was traveling in the southern city of Kandahar, a provincial official said, adding to fears for press freedom in the war-wrecked country.
Nimat Rawan was shot at noon, provincial spokesman Baheer Ahmadi said, by two assailants who were able to escape with his mobile phone.
Security officials have told several other journalists in the area that extremists are targeting them as well, he added.
The killing heightens worries over the fate of Afghan journalists as US troops pullout. Many fear violence will spike and reprisals will be taken out against those who worked with foreign forces.
Rawan was a former presenter for the well-known local channel Tolonews. He had been working in the Finance Ministry’s media office, media watchdog Nia said in a statement.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but it comes a day after the Taliban issued a threat to Afghan journalists it considered too close to US-backed security agencies.
In a statement, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid warned Afghan journalists against giving “one-sided news in support of Afghanistan’s intelligence,” or otherwise “face the consequences.”
Afghanistan is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist. Since 2006, as many as 76 journalists have been killed in Afghanistan, according to UNESCO.
Last year alone at least 15 were killed, and earlier this year, three women employed by media outlets were killed in eastern Afghanistan. The Daesh group has claimed responsibility for some of the killings, including that of the three women. The majority of the targeted journalists have been women.
The government blames a resurgent Taliban — who now control or hold sway over half the country — for many of the targeted killings. The insurgents, meanwhile, claim the Afghan intelligence service is carrying out these attacks so as to blame the Taliban.